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Some familiar names among top free-agent cornerbacks for Buffalo Bills to pursue

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Will the Bills look to re-sign an old friend, or will they look to different players?

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The Buffalo Bills have a strong defensive secondary, with three of four starting positions occupied by top-tier players. Add to that a stellar rookie slot corner, and Buffalo appeared to have a great secondary coming into the 2018 season.

The problem, of course, was that pesky second corner spot, one which took the team nearly the whole year to iron out in terms of finding the right player. After Vontae Davis quit at halftime of Buffalo’s Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo turned to Ryan Lewis, a practice-squad pickup from the New England Patriots. After his play went south, the team began playing Phillip Gaines outside. After he flopped, the Bills released him and gave the playing time to Levi Wallace, an undrafted rookie from Alabama.

While the young man certainly showed well in coverage, as Wallace’s 83.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus would suggest, there are some doubts about the lanky corner going forward. At 6’ and 179 pounds, Wallace struggled to maintain the edge in run support at times. He was excellent in coverage, however, as he averaged 10.9 coverage snaps per target after the season’s tenth week. That number was more than any corner not named Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, or Casey Heyward Jr.

So, do the Bills really need to find another starting-caliber corner? Perhaps they don’t; however, in a league where teams routinely trot out three and four receivers, more corners are always preferable to less. And if the Bills do choose to find another corner via the free-agent market, they have some familiar names available to them. A comprehensive list of all 2019 free agent corners can be found here.


E.J. Gaines

If Buffalo is looking for a solid zone player who can contribute on a limited number of snaps who is also a strong tackler and run-support player, they may be best-served calling their old pal Gaines. After playing for the Bills in 2017, the team chose not to re-sign him. He spent 2018 with the Cleveland Browns, and a familiar theme with Gaines’s career happened again this year—as he spent much of the season nursing injuries. Gaines managed to play only six games this season, notching 13 tackles, one interception, and three pass breakups in the process.

Why should Buffalo pursue him? If they’re looking for someone who can come in and immediately contribute to the defense, they’re well aware that Gaines is a fit in the system. The 5’10” corner had arguably his best professional season in his year with the Bills, as he made 59 tackles, forced three fumbles, broke up nine passes, and intercepted one pass on the year. He earned an 86.2 grade from PFF while playing in 11 games. When Gaines played, Buffalo’s record was 8-3, and they allowed an average of 18.8 points per game (and that includes the 54-24 debacle that was Nathan Peterman’s five-interception debut). When Gaines did not play, Buffalo was 1-4, and they allowed an average of 30.4 points per game.

Gaines is a veteran who will probably be looking to prove himself on a one-year deal. If it’s one full of incentives, he could be a great fit back in Orchard Park.

Bradley Roby

The former first-round pick of the Denver Broncos is coming off a terrible year, arguably the worst of his career. Why pursue him in free agency? Well, it’s clear that the man has talent, as his 60 pass breakups and seven interceptions would suggest. He is a tough, physical corner who could be in need of a change of scenery in order to find his way. His price tag will probably be suppressed thanks to the weak season he had, but it still will most likely cost more to add him than it would Gaines. His upside is definitely higher, however, and he could be a good addition at both inside and outside corner.

Kareem Jackson

The veteran corner had a fantastic overall year in 2018, breaking up a career-best 17 passes in his age-30 season. He also added two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a career-high 87 tackles. PFF graded him a 79.5, which was the 13th-best grade of all corners in 2018. At 5’10” and 183 pounds, he is not a physically imposing corner, but he clearly offers a willingness to put his hat on a ball carrier and make a tackle. Depending on his market, he could be looking for one last big contract; however, if that big contract doesn’t develop, Buffalo could do well to sign him to a one- or two-year deal with some incentives based on his performance.

Ronald Darby

...Could you imagine? The Bills’ former second-round draft pick who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick is without question the most talented corner on the free agent market. He is coming off an ACL tear, and there is next to zero chance that the Bills sign him. However, I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t note him among the possibilities in free agency given his immense talent.

Steven Nelson

It’s not often that a player from a defensive secondary that allowed 4,372 yards and 30 touchdown passes would be considered a good free-agent acquisition, but that’s certainly the case with Nelson, who is coming off a career-best year in his walk year from his rookie contract. Originally drafted in the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015, Nelson intercepted four passes this season, adding 15 pass breakups and 68 tackles. PFF graded him a 72.1, which was 33rd among corners this season. He would be a good player to add across from Tre’Davious White if Buffalo is unconvinced that Levi Wallace can continue to play at a high level.

Poll

Which free agent corner should the Bills sign?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    E.J. Gaines
    (428 votes)
  • 17%
    Bradley Roby
    (330 votes)
  • 5%
    Kareem Jackson
    (104 votes)
  • 23%
    Ronald Darby
    (444 votes)
  • 3%
    Steven Nelson
    (76 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (specify in comments)
    (10 votes)
  • 27%
    None; either keep Wallace as starter or draft one instead
    (530 votes)
1922 votes total Vote Now